The Jungle Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Jungle: Chapters 10-12

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At home, money is extremely short in Chapter Ten and Marija has to postpone her marriage for now. They are all just existing rather than living and more money has to be found for the insurance payments. The narrative steps back to consider how the workers in the area are generally so tired from their manual work that they are too tired to walk anywhere on their only day off (Sunday). They are also made to feel a class apart.
It is now late spring and the canning factory has re-opened, but Marija loses her job not long after. Marija thinks this is because of her activity in the union, but it may also be because she made a fuss after being paid less than her due before being laid off earlier. She has not learned to know her place in the hierarchy.
Ona is pregnant and this adds to the financial difficulties as Jurgis is saving to pay for a male doctor. Marija finds work as a beef trimmer after five weeks of looking and is paid little more than half of the wage that the previous male worker earned.
The narrative then shifts to describe Ona’s difficulties at work. Her forelady, Miss Henderson, dislikes Ona because she is a ‘decent married girl’. It is strongly suggested that she is involved in prostitution. The readers are told that ‘unspeakable’ things happen at the packinghouses and were taken for granted. Comparisons are made with old-time slave drivers who were also morally corrupt, except here the master and slave are the same color.
There is a further narrative shift as Ona gives birth to a son, little Antanas. Jurgis is now ‘irrevocably a family man’. Unfortunately, Jurgis and Ona hardly see him as both have to work and Elzbieta cares for him. Ona has to return to work after a week, and because she returns so quickly she is never a well person after this.
In Chapter Eleven, it is summer and Jurgis is busy, but he is earning less as more men have been employed. The work is not easier, however, as the speeding-up process grows more savage. This is where a paid pacemaker sets a fast pace for the other to keep up.
The power of the firm is understood by Jurgis when he discovers that although there are a number of different meat companies, they are in truth known as the Beef Trust and work together to control prices and conditions.
For short period, Marija, Ona and Jurgis begin to survive a little better and begin to save a fraction of their money in a bank. However, in January, Jurgis slips at work when a steer breaks loose and he injures his ankle. The company doctor says he could be laid up for months, and also informs him it is not the company’s fault. Jurgis worries that without his wage the family will starve and is compared to Prometheus bound.
Jurgis returns to work after three weeks, in Chapter Twelve, but he is in agony. He is now told he will have to lie still for two months or risk becoming lame. Out of fear of hunger for the family, Jurgis beats Stanislovas to force him to go to work as the boy is extremely reluctant to walk in the snow after suffering severe frostbite and disabling the joints in three fingers. One of the worst times of this period is when Jonas disappears. Although not entirely sure, the family presume this is because he is discontented with having so little.
Because of their stark poverty, the family decides that two more of Elzbieta’s children must also leave school to work (Vilimas and Nikalojus). They are sent out to sell newspapers. With the passing of winter and a little more money coming in, Jurgis becomes calmer again, but fails to notice that Ona is in pain.
He hopes to return to work with his ankle bandaged, but is told his job has been taken. He must now wait outside the factory with the other unemployed and hope to get chosen. However, he no longer has his old confidence and is thin and haggard. He realizes the company has ‘got the best out of him’ and have now thrown him away. This is the same with most of the unemployed he meets.
The atrocious working conditions that the separate family members have to endure become increasingly more detailed in these chapters. The lack of employer loyalty shown to Jurgis is characteristic of this novel’s critique of exploitative working conditions, which is, of course, also linked to the wider aim of criticizing the effects of capitalism on the proletariat.
From the first chapter, it has been made abundantly clear that Jurgis is honest, hardworking and dependable. He has given his health to the company whilst his family has been close to starving whilst he has been sick. The narrative is once more quick to step back from Jurgis to remind the readers that he is not an isolated case. We are told, for example, that he has met many other unemployed men who have suffered a similar fate. This effectively counters the popular (capitalist-inspired) myth that all the unemployed are lazy. Through the depiction of not just Jurgis, but also all of his family, the readers are forced to consider a socialist understanding of wage labor.


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